Westwood Project Benefits Only Smedra

I am writing to voice my opposition to Ira Smedra's Village Center Project as currently designed. I am a licensed architect and member of the American Institute of Architects, and I have studied both the original and more recent project plans.

Mr. Smedra's project has been presented as a boon to all of Westwood Village attracting patrons by providing parking and stores and then leading them into the rest of the Village. However, the design as it now stands is a mall that is self-contained and self-serving.

I have worked on similar projects with developers, and I have been told by them that the best way to keep patrons and their wallets within a retail space is to make it difficult and unpleasant to get out. Mr. Smedra's mall is a perfect example of this kind of thinking.

Study the plans and ask yourself, once you drive into the project, how will you get out? The main elevators and escalators from Mr. Smedra's parking garage lead only to the lower plaza of his project. You are still 30 feet below street level and the rest of the Village. If you want to exit to the north, there are almost 60 steps as if you were climbing to the fourth floor of a building before you arrive at Weyburn Avenue.

It is a really a misnomer to call this sunken space, 30 feet below street level, a "public plaza." Why is it that architects and urban planners generally regard sunken plazas to be unworkable as public spaces? It is because when you are in a sunken plaza, you are isolated and separated from the pedestrian life on the street above. This so-called "public plaza" really benefits only Ira Smedra's shopping mall. It will become a hole a crater 105 feet wide and 260 feet long that will destroy the urban texture of the Village.

The sunken plaza is only one of the design elements included in this project to keep patrons in and not let them out. The pedestrian exit to the west leading to Westwood Boulevard may never be built, because it includes the demolition of property not owned by Ira Smedra.

The only pedestrian exit to the south, which would be a logical exit into the Village, is filled with barriers. Mr. Smedra's project narrows from a 165-foot-wide space to only a single 10-foot-wide walkway for pedestrians to exit.

Pedestrian access to the Village will be diminished from two sidewalks to only one because the plan calls for the destruction of the sidewalk on the east side of Glendon. This is being done to allow one large truck-loading lane and three lanes of cars access to Mr. Smedra's perking garage.

Thus, what Mr. Smedra calls "pedestrian access" into the Village to the south is really a major vehicular service entrance. Instead of separating pedestrians from delivery trucks and the thousands of cars using the parking garage, pedestrians and vehicles will use the same constricted space. Is this the "grand" entrance /exit that Village shopkeepers think will lure patrons away from Mr. Smedra's project and into the Village?

Glendon Avenue, which the city is giving to Smedra, will become only an entrance serving his parking garage and a sunken plaza serving his project.

Many of the urban design decisions in Mr. Smedra's project such as closing Glendon, sinking the plaza, and restricting access to the rest of the Village are based on money and greed. If this project is allowed, it opens the same door to every other developer. This project, as it is currently designed, serves neither the residential nor the business community of greater Westwood Village it serves only Ira Smedra.

LILA RIOTH, AIA

Westwood

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